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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 04/07/2012 2:17 PM
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Around The-Ozone Water Cooler — What players do you expect to be the surprise performer of spring.
Who will possibly earn a starting spot, or an unexpected place in the two-deep?
By the-Ozone Staff

Urban Meyer has said that the Spring is where the depth chart is set, which means players are fighting to get into that mix with everything they've got.

Right now there are no preconceived notions. Everybody is starting on square one. All things are equal, and now it simply comes down to desire and ability.

The Spring isn't the end all, be all for these players, but it's close. If a player doesn't secure a spot now, then they will be fighting a very uphill battle in the Fall to do what they were unable to do in the Spring.

Clearly, the time is now to make a move, which is why we thought it would be an interesting topic to discuss around Ye Olde Watering Cooler.

Tony Gerdeman — At the end of last season running back Rod Smith was working with the linebackers, which told you more about his perceived value at tailback than prospects at linebacker.

But this is a new year, and as players and coaches have been saying all Spring, every slate is clean, and players are buying in because of it.

That's why my first answer to the Water Cooler question could only be Rod Smith. With Carlos Hyde the assumed starter, and the hype surrounding freshman Bri'onte Dunn, and the questions of where Jordan Hall fits in, Smith has seemingly been the forgotten man throughout all of this.

However, after watching him a little bit in practice so far, he is doing his best to re-introduce himself to everybody. Despite a fumble in practice on Wednesday, he was getting into the second level of the defense pretty regularly—and this has been against a defense that has dominated practice.

Buckeye fans got a glimpse at what Smith could do early last year, but I think they could be in store for quite a bit more in 2012.

Defensively, there are plenty of people waiting to see what the incoming freshman class will do in the Fall, specifically the pass rushers like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.

The Buckeyes are already in possession of a five-star defensive end in the form of sophomore Steve Miller.

This Spring is huge for Miller because the Buckeyes don't have presumed starter Nathan Williams available at Leo, so there are many more reps available for others than there would have been otherwise.

From what we have seen so far, Miller has made the most of his time, and has even gotten some snaps with the first team at the up-for-grabs Leo spot (which we all assume John Simon will eventually vacate).

Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel spoke on Friday about finding a two-deep, which they haven't yet been able to do. Before it's all over, expect Miller to find his way into that two-deep, and not just by default.

Ben Axelrod — On the offensive side of the ball, Ty Williams appears to have come a long way from using twitter to post his own personal ad for transferring purposes in the middle of last season. And perhaps non-coincidentally, along with Williams’ improved attitude has come improved play.

Unlike last spring and summer, when Williams seemed to have difficulties catching the ball, the 6-foot-6 receiver has actually been one of the Buckeyes’ more impressive pass catchers this spring, and that’s kind of important to the position he plays.

According to the OSU coaching staff, it will be the receivers who have the toughest time transitioning to the new spread offense, but that’s something that could actually work in Williams’ favor. Instead of having to play catch up with receivers like Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Corey Brown, and anyone else who jumped him on the depth chart, Williams can now start from scratch and hope that his size, along with his newfound abilities, earn him significantly more playing time than he saw in 2011.

Defensively, this may be more wishful thinking than it is a prediction, but I don’t think it would surprise anybody if safety Christian Bryant made a huge jump in 2012.

After a promising freshman season that was derailed by injuries in 2010, Bryant cracked the starting lineup in 2011, only to find himself as one of the weaker links in the OSU secondary. Bryant certainly has the speed, size, and versatility to make an impact for the Buckeyes in 2012, but he first needs to find a way to channel his aggressiveness into a more positive tool.

Last season, it seemed as those Bryant was always celebrating after a tackle, even if it came after a 15 yard gain. The celebrations are fine, but it’d be nice to see them come after more broken up passes or even interceptions.

Considering the improvements in attitude made by players like Williams and Kenny Guiton, it’s not crazy to think that Bryant too could benefit from the Meyer regime’s emphasis on attitude, and with a better pass rush and linebacker play, Bryant should have all the opportunities in the world to be making plays, whether it be from the safety or star position.

Brandon Castel — Coming off a 6-7 season a year ago, there are so many spots that need an upgrade in Ohio State’s two-deep this spring. Urban Meyer has to like what the Buckeyes have coming back on the defensive front, and probably in the defensive backfield as well, where they return all four starters from a year ago, plus senior Orhian Johnson, who will play safety in the nickel.

Offensively, the Buckeyes bring back their top three tight ends from a year ago, along with a stable of running backs; despite the exit of senior tailback Boom Herron. Quarterback Braxton Miller is entrenched as the starter heading into his second year in the program, and the light seems to have gone on for Kenny Guiton, who will serve as Miller’s primary backup this season.

That all sounds promising, but the Buckeyes have serious issues up front offensively and at the skill position, where Meyer has been less than impressed this spring. They also have major depth issues at linebacker, which is why Meyer said some of the incoming freshmen—Camren Williams, David Perkins and Jamal Marcus—could jump in and compete for a spot in the fall.

There are couple guys on defense I like to impress this spring, and not just Curtis Grant, who seems to be the runaway candidate for breakout player of the year on defense. Along with Curtis, I really like Doran Grant at the corner spot this year.

Right now, he is behind Bradley Roby—my favorite player on the defense—and Travis Howard, a fifth-year senior out of Miami, Fla. There are some who became less enamored with Howard last season, but Dominic Clarke is no longer around to challenge him for the starting spot.

It is probably not smart to assume Grant can push Howard for the starting corner spot during spring camp, but I really like the skill set Grant brings to the corner position. He isn’t as dynamic in coverage as Roby—not many are at a young age—but he brings a lot of intangibles to the position.

Grant will have some competition from incoming freshman Armani Reeves in the fall, but I expect him to lock up the No. 3 corner spot and begin his push for a starting spot on the defense next season.

Another guy I like on that side of the ball this spring is defensive end Steve Miller. I thought Miller would eventually beat out J.T. Moore for the starting Leo spot after Nathan Williams was injured last season, but he wasn’t quite ready for everything that comes with playing that position on Ohio State’s defense.

Miller looks much more comfortable this spring, backing up John Simon at the Leo spot. He is going to face fierce competition in the fall from incoming freshman Noah Spence, but it would be a good thing for the Buckeyes if Miller can work his way into the rotation up front.

They don’t have a lot of guys who can play the Leo spot, so the opportunity is there for Miller, he just has to seize it.

John Porentas - The way the question is posed limits the answer to players who weren't expected to be in the two-deep, so that kind of takes some names out of the hopper for me. One of the guys I had in mind as a surprise player was Marcus Hall, who I think will be a much-imporved player this year and perform far above the level a lot of people expected, but since he was already expected to be in the two-deep he is off the list but I just snuck in a mention of him in spite of the rules, so take that whoever came up with this question.

Offensively, I'm thinking this has to be a wide receiver. It's the position of greatest need in my opinion, so that means that if anybody at all steps up he is going to find his way onto the field. I'm hearing good things about Ty Williams and like the fact that Mike Thomas was an early enrollee, so either of those two guys are logical candidates. If you want a name that is kind of totally off the radar right now, keep running back Warren Ball in mind. The Buckeyes aren't in particular need at running back, but some people I really trust have said that he is the real sleeper in this class and could make some noise next fall. I still think the wide receiver spot is the most "open" and therefore the position most likely to produce a surprise contributor. For that reason I'll go with Mike Thomas.

Defensively, Curtis Grant is the obvious choice, and in my opinion, the correct one. Grant seems to be playing with abandon this spring and looks very comfortable out on the field. He has lost weight so is quicker. The combination of being quicker and also playing faster (they are two different things) makes him a much better linebacker this year. Last year the hesitation in his game was almost painful to watch. That is all gone now and allowing his impressive athleticism and agressiveness to show. He'll be an exciting player to watch this year.

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